A bank of fog moves in on the tree-lined slope, blanketing flowery meadows that glisten with shimmering dew, enveloping a small herd of cows that resolutely continue eating, and transforming a cloudy summer Wednesday morning into an otherworldly fairytale landscape at once bleak and enchanting. Here, only 15 minutes’ walk from the middle station of the Bezau cable car, the sound of people has given way entirely to that of birds, bumblebees and faraway cowbells. Descending to the small Greußings Wildmoos mountain pasture a short while later, I catch sight of a creature that briefly flummoxes me: scarcely larger than a cat, with long legs, a black snout and fluffy ears, it’s a fawn. Simon and Simone Jäger took her in after she had spent three days squeaking miserably while wandering alone in the woods above the hut. Now called ‘Heidi’, she drinks goat’s milk from her bottle and follows Simone wherever she goes.
Summertime up at the dairy
Simone and Simon Jäger spend their summers on the Greußings Wildmoos mountain pasture. Though their commitment to tradition and the well-being of their animals makes their work all the more arduous, they always delight in welcoming visitors on the long summer days.
The story of Simon’s Alpine dairy
Although this young Andelsbuch couple has a real affinity for the Alpine lifestyle, it was not one into which they were born. While the hut did belong to the family of Simon’s mother, it had been rented out for a number of years and was somewhat dilapidated. Having completed his alternative civilian service in 2011, Simon decided at the age of 19 that he would replace the old building with a new facility featuring an adjoining cheese dairy – and he was going to run it himself. A trained carpenter, Simon spent the autumn of that year building the hut with the help of his brother. He has headed up into the hills from May to September every year since, joining his 18 cows (he insists on keeping horned breeds only), 10 young cattle, six pigs, two goats and brood of chickens.
During this period, he produced some 3,000 kilograms of fine aromatic Alpine cheese. Wearing only shorts, rubber boots and a long white dairyman’s apron, Simon cuts a quiet and focused figure as he stirs a steaming copper vat. Through the dense milky fog that permeates this small dairy, he tells of his life and work up on the mountain pasture. Although Simon was not brought up on a farm, he notes that his uncle – a dairyman – helped introduce him to the Alpine lifestyle and the world of dairy farming at a young age. He also further underlines his ambition to observe time-honoured methods wherever possible and avoid the use of industrial aids such as powdered rennet and metal containers. In place of these modern resources, he manufactures his cheese using dried organic calf stomachs and traditional ‘Gepsen’: these large round wooden containers are used to store the evening milk overnight so that it can ripen. Without so much as looking up, he pours the acidified whey from the previous day into the steaming vat before scooping coagulated milk protein into a wooden bowl shortly afterwards. “Lunch”, he murmurs.
The benefits of traditional farming
Later on, a knowing smile creeps across Simone’s lips as she admits that Simon can sometimes seem a little old beyond his years. Throughout the summer, Simone welcomes the many hikers who take advantage of the beautiful weather to enjoy the tranquility of the Greußings Wildmoos mountain pasture. Visitors can sample a whole range of authentic products including milk, buttermilk, homemade juice, tea harvested by hand, mountain cheese, goat’s cheese, bacon and Landjäger sausage. Simone also delights in the fact that their adherence to long-forgotten working methods is by no means limited to Simon’s cheesemaking efforts. One such tradition is ‘sömmern’, a seldom-used practice that ensures greater yields and more relaxed animals. “At the crack of dawn, around half past three in the morning, one of us will take the cows to the first meadow,” says Simone, nonetheless admitting that neither she nor her husband are larks by nature. “We return them to the stable by seven o’clock and keep them there until the early afternoon. The animals find it much more pleasant to eat and digest in the cool surroundings of the stable rather than out in the blazing sunshine. This method also ensures that their droppings end up on the dung heap rather than in the meadow, which helps protect the grass and means that the meadows themselves can be used for a longer period.”
Dairyman’s soup: an Alpine staple
Around noon, as the sun finally pierces through the fog, I find myself sitting down to lunch with the couple in their lovingly decorated glazed veranda. We then tuck into ‘dairyman’s soup’: fuzzy white flakes of milk protein served in warm whey. Drawn from the leftovers at the end of the cheesemaking process, this traditional dish was once a staple meal for those who worked in the mountain pastures and is now an insider’s tip for those who love the taste of milk and cheese. “We also have it for lunch every day,” explains Simon, visibly satisfied that the first half of their day’s work is done. Having made a very conscious decision to live their lives up on the mountain pasture, this young couple are clearly a well-drilled team who back each other up with real dedication. When I ask whether they could sometimes use an extra pair of hands, they exchange a quick glance. “My dad and Simone’s mum often come up to help,” says Simon. “We’re very glad to have their support.” Smiling, they tell me that they love to have the mountain pasture to themselves – and although their lifestyle involves a lot of hard work, they always enjoy the long summer days. During the winter, Simon plies his trade as a carpenter and ski instructor while Simone works for the non-profit organisation Lebenshilfe and savours the opportunity to sleep in at weekends. And soon enough, Simon finds himself longing for the the coming of spring and the special day in May when they head back up into the mountains.
Author: Babette Karner
Edition: Reisemagazin Summer 2019